What is Capability Development?

Capability, in its shortest and most primal form, is the ability to change things. To make a difference. But how does this apply?

When I first started in Capability Development, I took a long time to sit down and ponder what that exactly was. The term itself is rather broad and, depending on how you look at it, can be rather vague. I took a big sheet of paper and jotted down all the terms I could that were connected with this, either directly (things I would be able to work with) and indirectly (things were I would be asked for advice, input or information). Here are some of those words:

  • Learning, Training, Development, Talent, Job Descriptions
  • Improvement, Tooling, Coaching
  • Leadership, Management, Reporting
  • Insight, Advice, Consulting, Analysis
  • Communities, Knowledge, Cooperation, Communication

This led to a few core sentences I use to describe what Capability is, and :

  • Capability measures how empowered people are in performing their jobs
  • Capability Development improves the synergy between people and their jobs
  • You can change the people, their job role, and their task process to enhance synergy
  • Insight and analysis enable Management Consultancy to gain sufficient support to succeed

Abraham Maslow once created a theory that people have needs in order to function, some which were absolutely vital to survival (food, water, shelter), others which were not immediately needed, but promoted long-term psychological health (family and friends). When you look at these needs they form a pyramid, which the most basic needs at the bottom, and then stacked on top all other needs in order of necessity. At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization, the ability to be the best you can be, to be the best version of yourself.

This pyramid is Capability in its purest form, change that takes place from the very bottom of your job-related needs, all the way to the top – actualization of the perfect, professional you.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Source:Wikipedia

At the minimum, you need to provide the circumstances for people to do their jobs. They need job descriptions, training, adequate processes and tooling. It does not have to be perfect or well-fitting, but it has to be there. Once these needs are out of the way, there are many ways in which you can improve your job. Better processes and tooling makes work faster. Easier job descriptions means you can hire people faster and get them trained for the job. Next up is safety, doing the job in such way that there are no accidents, which are both horrible for people involved, but also for the company. Lunch breaks, holidays and overtime also fall in this category, they are safety measures to prevent overwork and people failing to take care of themselves.

Then comes the necessity for people to communicate. To form peer groups, work councils, team meetings. To connect with other departments and have discussions on how to best do the job so that everyone involved gets more work done with less energy.

Next up in the pyramid is esteem; the ability to better ourselves. In this case I use the term loosely, I think for Capability it applies to anything that improves your professional career, from a pay raise or a compliment from your manager all the way to talent programs and job promotions. Once you’ve reached this level, you are likely very comfortable in your role, and have performed your job for some time.

Self-actualization, the last phase, is the epitome of Capability Development. Here you have actually transcended your job, and start making a name for yourself in your field. You could be a blogger, informing others of the latest developments in your field. Maybe you have written a book on the subject, and are a published author. Maybe you have a side-job in consultancy on your specialization, or a public speaker making others in your field aware of developments behind the scene in your industry itself.

The last three steps shift between themselves. You make a name for yourself, and thus find belonging with a new group of people, where you build yourself esteem (promotions, fame) in a sector you previously did not even know of. Once you’ve acclimatized, you can once again improve yourself and become an expert in your newest field, finding yourself belonging to yet another group. There is virtually no limit to how many times this can occur, or how many groups you can belong to.

For example, you could start out as an HR specialist, and eventually become Head of HR. You now move in executive levels, the so-called “C-level”, such as CEO, CIO and CFO. Maybe you are doing really well, and one day you manage to become CEO of the company. You’ve now actualized yourself very well, and are invited to become the CEO of a much larger, international country. Now you find yourself regularly involved with international teams, and a European executive level. Perhaps, given sufficient time and advancement, you become the Head of Enterprise, leader of the companies you previously were a part of – all those experiences combine and build upon each other.


Capability means changing and improving things, on whatever level you desire. From jobs to processing to tooling, all the way to how companies interact, organize and strategize. Capability can be developed by anyone, for themselves, their role/department or their company. It is also not a finite process, but an ongoing one, continuously improving people involved to be better, and help others getting better.

Who knows? If you are bright enough, and look hard enough, you might find out how to improve the development of capability itself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.